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Police Officer being on duty during Shabbos


Rabbi Yoel Lieberman

Cheshvan 22, 5778
I’m a police officer and, at times, being on duty during Shabbos is unavoidable. However; I don’t do anything proactive unless it involves public safety, my duties are limited to being reactive for ensuring safety for the general public. There is an argument in orthodox Judaism that permits a doctor, ambulance personnel and nurses to be on duty during Shabbos, but for a Jewish police officer, the argument is unresolved. Example: A person walks home from Shul on Shabbos, twists their ankle on an uneven sidewalk, a police officer will be on location first to render aid and provide comfort, long before the ambulance arrives to transport the person to a hospital where a doctor provides treatment. An Officer of the Law is always the first responder in all matters of health and public safety. Please guide me to the answer within Shulchan Aruch. This is concerning since my Rav is telling me to quit my job.
ב"ה Shalom Shavua Tov I apologize for the delay in giving an answer. I was trying to see if I could get the Chief Rabbi of the Police in Israel to answer your question. However, I didn't want to delay answering any longer, and if we do get to the Chief Rabbi of the Police, we will post his answer. In my opinion, this is a question for a major Posek, and not something which we can simply rely on an answer on the internet as reliable a website may be. The job of a policeman is to be respected, it indeed entails saving lives and maintaining law and order without which it would be impossible to live in any country. On the other hand when a person lives among gentiles, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l ruled ((שו"ת אגרות משה, אורח חיים, חלק א, סימן קלא) in regard to a doctor who is needed on Shabbat, that he should be replaced with a gentile doctor, which is a lot simpler when living outside of Israel. While I'm sure as a policeman you are involved in many lifesaving activities, a great part of your job doesn’t entail lifesaving action. Driving around in a patrol car, answering and giving radio messages, writing tickets, filing reports are all actions which are either forbidden by the Torah or by Rabbinic sources. Even in Israel, according to many Rabbis, if a house was broken into and thieves have already gone, and there is no more danger, the police may not be called. So although your work is to be admired, the best solution would be to find a gentile to replace you. If this cannot be done, you must sit down with a well versed Rabbi of how to deal with a multitude of questions that arise, in such a job. If your own Rabbi cannot help you, then refer to another one. All the best
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